Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Whither the Church in a Palestinian Jordan?

By Elizabeth Kendal

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets on Friday 5 October, in what has been by far the largest political demonstration in the kingdom since the onset of the "Arab Spring".  The protestors were calling for "democratic reforms," threatening to boycott the forthcoming elections should adequate reforms not be realised.

See: A late-blooming Arab Spring in Jordan?
By Ilene Prusher, Jerusalem Post, 2 Oct 2012
Muslim Brotherhood, opposition groups, call for massive rally in Amman to demand reform and boycott upcoming elections.

In Jordan, real democracy would, ipso facto, result in a Palestinian state. As was the case in Iraq and Syria, Jordan is dominated by a minority. While in multi-racial, pluralistic Iraq and Syria, the divisions are sectarian, in Jordan the divisions are tribal. In Iraq, a Sunni minority dominated a Shi'ite majority: a situation established by the British. In Syria, an Alawite minority has dominated a Sunni majority: a situation established by the French. In Jordan, which is officially 92 percent Sunni Muslim, a Bedouin ("East Banker") minority dominates a Palestinian ("West Banker") majority: a situation created by mass migration. And within the dominant minority, the Hashemite monarchy represents merely one tribe amongst many -- and a "foreign"/ outsider, British-transplanted tribe at that.

The Hashemites are an Arab tribe emanating from the Hejaz / Red Sea region of what is now Saudi Arabia.

During World War One, Lawrence of Arabia convince the Hashemites to rise up against their Ottoman overlords. After the war, Britain rewarded its Hashemite allies with kingdoms in Iraq, Trans-Jordan and the Hejaz.

Hashemite rule over the Hejaz ended in 1925 when the Saudis conquered and annexed the territory into their own kingdom, thereby seizing control of Islam's holiest and most lucrative sites. In Iraq, Hashemite rule ended in 1958, when the monarchy was overthrown in a military coup. Only in Jordan has Hashemite rule survived. If the Palestinians are able to exploit the window of opportunity afforded them by the "Arab Spring," then a Palestinian state might be not far off -- albeit one that retains a Hashemite king as a powerless figurehead. Much depends on whether on West decides to "champion democracy" in Jordan (as it supposedly did in Egypt and Libya) or give tacit support to violent repression (as it clearly did in Bahrain).

What a Palestinian Jordan might mean for local Christians and for Israel is unclear.

A report published in the winter (northern hemisphere) edition of the Middle East Quarterly, entitled "Jordon is Palestinian", explains the situation well. The author, Mudar Zahran is a Jordanian of Palestinian decent. Full of hope (and doubtless a little bias) Zahran is extremely positive about the prospects of a peaceful and prosperous Palestinian State in Jordan. What is uncertain, however, is whether those who would eventually hold power in a Palestinian Jordan would share his position. Doubtless Palestinians would be profoundly divided. For certain, many would be overjoyed to be able to get on with their lives free of the shackle of "refugee" status. However, there would also be plenty of belligerent Islamists keen to ruin everything for everyone.

See: Jordan Is Palestinian
by Mudar Zahran, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2012.

Palestinians comprise a majority in Jordan. Jordan's two largest cities, Amman and Zarqa, are majority Palestinian. Yet as Zahran notes, the "Palestinian majority has been discriminated against by the ruling Hashemite dynasty, propped up by a minority Bedouin population, from the moment it occupied Judea and Samaria during the 1948 war (these territories were annexed to Jordan in April 1950 to become the kingdom's West Bank)."

Held as "refugees" with a "right of return", the Palestinians are discriminated against in every way as they used as pawns in an Arab strategy aimed at destroying Israel. They are politically marginalised: "there is not a single Palestinian serving as governor of any of Jordan's twelve governorships", writes Zahran. Though they are the backbone of the Jordanian economy, the Palestinians suffer economic discrimination. For while they pay hefty tariffs and high taxes, the Bedouin "East Bankers", as public servants and military service personnel, have access to government-subsidised stores. As such, Palestinian taxes go into supporting the economic benefits enjoyed by members of institutions the Palestinians are not permitted to join. It is not a wonder that Jordan's Palestinians have for some time been viewed as "a ticking bomb".

On the other side of the coin, the Bedouin have come to realise the degree to which the Hashemite monarchy is dependent upon them. The army, the police forces, all the security agencies and the Jordanian General Intelligence Department are all made up of Bedouin (East Bankers). Consequently, as Zahran points out, the Hashemite monarchy has little choice but to kowtow to their demands.

Zahran reports, "Despite their lavish privileges, Jordanian Bedouins seem to insist relentlessly on a bigger piece of the cake, demanding more privileges from the king, and, in doing so, they have grown fearless about defying him."

Furthermore, the Bedouin have a tradition of pragmatic flexibility, freely trading loyalty according to interests such as who can offer the best rewards.

Zahran writes that essentially, "the Jordanian regime is now detested not only by the Palestinians but also by the Bedouins, who have called for a constitutional monarchy in which the king hands his powers to them." According to Zahran, it is the Bedouins who dominate Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood.

Zahran explains how in 2008, the monarchy enacted a discriminatory electoral law through which it strategically empowered the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). By empowering the MB, Abdullah created a platform upon which he could appeal to the US for political support and aid to tackle the Islamist threat. [NOTE: This is exactly what Gen. President Musharraf did in Pakistan in 2002 when, through gerrymandering and amendments to the electoral law, he engineered the way for the Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA: an alliance of six Islamist parties) to emerge holding the balance of power. He then brokered quid-pro-quo deals with the MMA, deals that advanced his own personal ambitions while simultaneously advancing Islamisation which he then presented to his Western allies as the reason why they should back him and keep the aid flowing!]

For more on this see another article by Mudar Zahran
Jordan's King and the Muslim Brotherhood: An Unholy Marriage
American Thinker, 20 January 2012
Quote: "It seems that the Jordanian regime is not as anti-Islamist as it claims to be, and it seems that both the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime don't want the Palestinian majority to come to power.  From the king's point of view, it would mean the end of his kingdom.  From the Muslim Brotherhood's point of view, it would present Palestinians everywhere with 'the alternative homeland' -- i.e., the 'Jordan is Palestine' option is 'a threat' to their attempts to destroy Israel [through 'right of return']."

For more information on the Palestinian "refugee" and "right of return" issues, as well as on UNRWA -- the UN Relief and Works Agency which is dedicated to perpetuating the crisis --

Nitza Nachmias, UNRWA Betrays Its Mission
A temporary relief operation turned into a self-perpetuating agency
Steven J. Rosen, Why a Special Issue on UNRWA?
Because the agency has become part of the problem
Alex Joffe, UNRWA Resists Resettlement
It advocates solely for the "right of return" to Israel 
Middle East Quarterly
Fall 2012 • VOLUME 19: NUMBER 4

In December 2012 or early 2013, the Palestinian majority and Bedouin opposition, with the momentum of the Arab Spring behind them, will be faced with the prospect of "un-democratic" elections. Despite this being a recipe for conflict, the West seems confident that its ally, King Abdullah II, will remain in control. Personally, I'm not so sure. A perfect storm may well be looming.

But would the solving of the "refugee" problem solve the problems of the Middle East? Would a Palestinian Jordan be economically engaged and at peace with Israel (as Zahran believes)? And what would be the status of the Church in a Palestinian Jordan?

If these questions can be answered positively -- then great! If not, because it turns out that the majority of Palestinians are far too radicalised for that, then whither the Church in a Palestinian Jordan?